By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
"You know that feeling when you're falling in love and you get butterflies in your stomach and you're just as light as air? It's just like that," Kristi explains. "The baby kicking is like falling in love."
Jill and Bill quickly became part of their lives. They would meet and talk about how things were going. Kristi called Jill all the time just to talk about the pregnancy. They went shopping for baby clothes, and Jill gave Kristi a medal of St. Thomas, the patron saint of mothers and children, to wear during the pregnancy. They went to doctor's visits, they helped pick out names. At first, Jill and Bill wanted to name the baby Troy if it was a boy, but Kristi and Troy rejected the idea. No, they said, you're going to be the parents. So they picked Ryan instead.
Not all was perfect, however. Troy couldn't bring himself to talk much about the adoption. He still can't. Kristi thinks it was hard for him to bring a baby into the world and then admit he couldn't care for it as he wanted to. And even though Troy's family supported the decision, Kristi's relatives insisted she had made a choice that would lead only to regret. They thought she should keep her baby. They accused Troy of making her give up the child, something Kristi furiously denies.
"Every time I talked to them it was a big argument: "You're making the biggest mistake of your life.' And I just couldn't talk to them anymore," she says. "They still don't ever see Ryan, which breaks my heart. But I can't force them to."
Plus, Kristi had about ten miles of what-ifs on her mind. What if she could never get pregnant again? What if Jill and Bill were just pretending? What if they didn't like her as much as they seemed to? What if the openness didn't work?
Jill and Bill were nervous too. And vulnerable. They knew no matter how much they had gotten to know Kristi, no matter how much she seemed to like and trust them -- they knew that at the last minute Kristi could change her mind. They knew it even when they showed up at the hospital on the day Kristi was induced. All of Kristi's and Troy's relatives showed up at Memorial Hospital in The Woodlands, but Jill and Bill were the first to arrive. In the waiting room, Jill told Kristi's mom that even if Kristi changed her mind, they would not regret meeting her, because they liked her so much. And Kristi's mom said Kristi would never do that, because she would rather break her own heart than the hearts of Jill and Bill. Kristi appreciated that, she says, but she doesn't understand how even after the birth her mother still tried to get her to change her mind.
But Kristi didn't. In a small ceremony at the hospital, two days after he was born, Kristi placed her son with Jill and Bill. Two days later she would officially sign the papers.
It was a bittersweet day, and there were tears, of course. Nobody's dream is to grow up and be a single mom or go through an adoption, says Kristi. The dream is to grow up and find Mr. Perfect and get the little house with the picket fence and the babies. So it was hard to admit she could not face the responsibility of motherhood.
"It's like taking those big horse pills," she says. "They don't go down easy."
But in the end, Kristi insists she was so sure of her choice that when she got into the car to go home from the hospital she felt mostly at peace. A few weeks later she went out to visit the Clarks, and Jill and Bill went out to dinner and left her alone with Ryan. Kristi was shocked.
"Oh, I was so ready for them to come back," she says. "With a newborn I could just imagine everything that could go wrong. They've always commended me on my bravery. And I always tell them I had the easy part."
Jill and Bill did come back, of course. And so did Kristi. For the christening, for the birthdays, for the visits to Santa Claus. And bit by bit, before everyone's eyes, the open adoption was working.
This is not the way it was always done. But in every way that open adoption is revolutionary, it is also a throwback to the past, explains Bruce Rappaport, executive director of the 18-year-old Independent Adoption Center in Pleasant Hill, California, and one of the founders of the ten-year-old National Federation for Open Adoption Education. The center and federation were trailblazers in both practicing open adoption and educating other agencies about its benefits and challenges. Agencies like the Homes of St. Mark regularly attend federation-sponsored conferences that hold workshops such as "Post Adoption Issues in Open Adoption" and "Opening Closed or Semi-Open Adoptions." Social workers also can be certified through the federation as open adoption practitioners by arriving early to the conference and attending specific classes.